February 13, 2013
This Valentine’s Day, take a cue from our furry friends and bond with the best of them. The National Zoo is spreading the love this year with their very own “Critter Cupids,” custom cards whose proceeds go to the wonderful animals that inspired them.
We got the inside scoop from caretakers and Zoo officials about all the many ways animals say, Happy Valentine’s Day.
Sea lions, Rebecca Miller: “Our sea lions often greet each other by touching noses or blowing on each other. They greet us this way too sometimes when we go out to feed or train.”
“They are also very playful with each other and will play tag or tug of war with objects that we give them. They have no real concept of personal space, often piling on top of each other when they sleep and using each other’s bodies as pillows.”
“Our two older unrelated females, Summer and Calli, were rescued as pups within a few days of each other and were raised together. They used to suck on each other’s ear flaps when they were younger–not so much anymore.”
“And they always prefer to be together. They’ll get antsy and easily stressed if separated from each other for long amounts of time.”
Giant pandas, Juan Rodriguez: “That shot of Tian Tian and Mei Xiang is the initial stages of the mating season. It usually ends with them rolling around and then their uncoordinated mating attempt (LOL).”
Great cats, Craig Saffoe: “Big cats (and small ones too) will head-rub with each other. To us it looks like “awwww, they’re in love,” in reality it is likely a way to express hormones as they have scent glands above their eyes. Looks cute though.”
Otters, Devin Murphy, Zoo communications team: “Our otters are very playful and they do everything together. When they run around their habitat it looks like one giant moving ball of fur. You can also hear them vocalize if you listen closely.”
Red pandas, Stacey Tabellario: “Red panda breeding season in the northern hemisphere is right around Valentine’s day. In fact, in 2011 we saw breeding ON Valentine’s day that produced two female cubs who are now grown and living at other zoos.”
“During breeding season, we see an increase in play and hear a vocalization called twittering. These red panda wrestling matches and soft high pitched sounds are how the red pandas find each other and pair up for breeding.”
December 20, 2012
“In various zoos around North America,” says Saffoe, curator for the great cats and bears, “the problem has been since 2005, only two litters have survived so far.” Both of those litters belong to the National Zoo’s bear, Billie Jean. All the others have died after day seven, according to Saffoe, which the Zoo’s cubs marked Wednesday, December 20.
The population also continues to dwindle in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, meaning the successful breeding of the species is an important victory. And because the National Zoo is one of the few zoos that actually monitors its newborn cubs with the use of an infrared camera installed in the otherwise dark den the bears use, Saffoe says his team is perfectly poised to contribute original findings about what’s made its program so successful.
“We’re extremely lucky that we have this bear and that she’s reproducing for us,” says Saffoe, “and that we have the equipment to be able to watch her. I don’t think a lot of viewers quite realize how special what they’re watching is.”
His team has begun looking through the recorded footage that begins on November 30 when Billie Jean first exhibited signs she was nearing labor. Searching for clues as to what makes the environment or the animals so unique, Saffoe says this time around the cameras are even better than for the birth in 2010.
The cubs aren’t out of the woods yet, of course. Estimating that his team won’t be able to access the cubs for another nine weeks, Saffoe says there’s still plenty of unknowns that could go wrong, citing the example of the infant panda who recently died at the Zoo. Barring unforeseen illness, Saffoe says the most realistic dangers are maternal neglect and accidents, including the possibility that the mother could crush the cubs.
In the meantime, he will listen in for vocalizations to be sure all is proceeding normally. Saffoe says, “Everything seems to be going really, really well. We’re very happy with how things sound and look.”
December 13, 2012
The cubs will stay nestled away with their mom for the first week, according to the Zoo. So for now, we bring you a snapshot of the happy family from the Zoo’s bear cam, where you can catch a glimpse of them if you’re lucky. Some Zoo fans even watched the birth happen live via the cam, but most just left their love Thursday on Facebook.
September 21, 2012
UPDATE: So, remember that grooming we mentioned might be underway judging from recent video taken of the giant panda mother and cub from the National Zoo? Turns out, our hunch was right. New video from Thursday evening shows the best view yet of the cub squirming atop the mother’s arm as she grooms her baby. Look for the blur of white and listen for the telltale squeals as only a giant panda cub could make them.
September 18, 2012
As was described Monday by both caretakers and the Zoo’s director, Mei Xiang is one great mom. A photo taken from the panda cam shows the mother giant panda tightly embracing her newborn. Juan Rodriguez, one of the caretakers, confirms that the back tail and paws of the baby are visible just below Mei Xiang’s nose.